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Disease Plagues Citrus Crop

citrus crop disease in florida
CBS
Weather patterns are a factor in a potential Florida citrus crop disaster in the making. So far the best way to fight the spreading crop disease is with a firewall. CBS News Correspondent Jeffrey Kofman reports.
Erase all trace. That's what Florida agriculture officials are scrambling to do as they torch hundreds of acres of citrus groves, in a desperate effort to halt a plague that could wipe out Florida's $8 billion citrus industry.

First they bulldoze, then they burn. This is the only way to stop the citrus canker infestation from spreading.

For the trees, it's lethal. First the leaves drop, then the fruit. Then the tree dies. Herbert Yamamura saw his lime groves wiped out by Hurricane Andrew in 1992. The new trees have just started bearing fruit. Now they'll have to go.

"The whole grove (is) going to be destroyed because there are so many infestations in this particular grove," Yamamura says.

It's crafty this citrus canker, a bacteria that's harmless to humans, but devastating to a citrus grove. It can spread from tree to tree or with birds or the wind. Add water to that wind - as in rain - and it can spread for miles.

This is exactly what happened last fall, when Hurricane George then Hurricane Irene lashed this area with driving rains.

So now a battalion of citrus inspectors has been deployed throughout South Florida. So far a third of Florida's lime groves are marked for destruction.

"As long as you've got the active disease in the state, you've got the possibility of it moving from the lime industry to affect the major portion of the citrus production," says Ken Bailey, director of the citrus canker eradication project.

So far citrus prices remain steady. With people moving quickly, the hope is they'll stay that way - which is why this search and destroy mission is so critical.